In yet another of his extraordinary interventions in UK politics, EU Commissioner Christopher Patten has told The Observer that the constitutional referendum is “the final reckoning”. Britain would have no choice but to pull out of the European Union if the public vote no, he says.
Asked directly if a no vote would mean quitting the EU, Patten said: “I think as good as. I just think that psychologically we can’t go on like this. It poisons political debate. It has demeaned large parts of our national media. We have to decide whether we want to choose for the first time in a millennium to play in the second division”.
In was Patten, it should be recalled, who also intervened in the 2001 general election, telling Hague that he should concentrate on “schools ‘n’ hospitals” and other domestic issues, rather than campaign on “Europe” – an agenda favoured by Blair. He is again siding with Blair, now seeking to shape the referendum agenda.
His latest intervention adds a new dimension to the increasingly polarised debate. On the one side stand Patten, the Blairites, the UK Independence Party, and even the British Communist Party, all of whom, argue that a “no” vote means leaving the EU. Against them are ranged the Conservative Party and the broader “no” alliance.